Three Dirty Little Secrets of Winter Hiking

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  1. We are our own wood-stove.

Your body is a heat-producing engine. All of that heat production goes to waste on summer trips. In fact, it only serves to slow us down.

But in winter the increased heart and respiration rate that hikers experience can be used to regulate body temperature and keep it in the optimal zone regardless of outside weather.  The trick is to capture more of the internal heat in times of cold weather or low-exertion – and release more heat on warmer days or when the exertion rate is high.

In other words, it’s all about the proper clothing, moisture management and most Ascending a well-packed trail without snowshoes.importantly – quick changes in layers based on activity and outside temperatures.

Imagine a strenuous February ascent along the Appalachian Trail to the peak of Old Speck (elevation gain    ft) in Grafton Notch State Park. You might be stripped down to a thin, long-sleeve base-layer tee shirt despite temperatures in the teens.

But at the peak – as soon as the heart rate drops so does the heat production. It’s time to Baxter Trip March 2010 056pile on the layers and the wind resistant outer shell.

2. Winter trails are soft trails.

Many of Maine’s most heavily used hiking trails are eroded nightmares. This includes 2008-08-31 155much of the Appalachian Trail which — despite thousands of hours of annual maintenance – can often resemble a dry stream-bed during summer hikes.

Early trail builders attacked Maine’s highest peaks with straightforward frontal assaults up the steepest slopes. Heavy use over the decades, and the state’s wet weather, has created modern trails that are sometimes eroded as much as two feet below the grade of the surrounding hillside forest. The most-common warm weather footing is a treacherous mix of loose rock, mud and immovable boulders.

In the winter months all of this is buried under a more forgiving and much prettier layer of snow. And all but the most remote trails will have at least a narrow packed surface to hike on. Deep snow transforms these winter trails into inclined ramps that are much easier to navigate than summertime rock gardens. Both ascending and descending is infinitely easier on the knees and other joints.

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3. Solitude in Spades

Most summer hikers will never know, or never acknowledge, the advantages of trekking in the winter months. For this we give our sincere thanks.

Trails crowded with busloads of summer campers, sandal-clad day-hikers and plaid-shorted urban refugees are never an issue in February. Chances are we will have the trail to ourselves.

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About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine.